Supercomputer Leaps Tall Cleantech Challenges

Scientists working to tackle our energy challenges at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., just got a powerful new weapon. While there’s no cape, the Olympus supercomputer does sport some superhero-like powers. It can’t fly, but it could perhaps help scientists figure out how with its ability to process computations as fast as 20,000 personal computers combined.

The supercomputer’s enormous disk bandwith – 80 gigabytes per second – allows it to read and write information to a disk 800 times faster than a personal computer, and it can hold 38.7 terabytes of memory. If you’re like us and were a little fuzzy on the prefix “tera,” it means 10 to the 12th power. So 38.7 terabytes is almost 39 trillion bytes. You get the picture; this is a very powerful computer combining with some very bright minds.

PNNL Olympus Super Computer

image via Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Not only is Olympus changing how lab researchers process information, it is also encouraging a new kind of collaboration. As you can imagine, this type of computer can command a high price tag so instead of continuing the old system where research teams at the lab purchased small computer systems for their individual projects, they pooled together their project funding to help cover the $4.4 million for purchase and installation.

When doing this massive number of computations, Olympus can get pretty heated. To stay cool, it uses a closed-loop water cooling system to absorb the heat that requires 70 percent less energy than a traditional air conditioning system and will save the lab up to $61,000 each year on cooling costs.

Angeli Duffin is a Midwest transplant currently living in San Francisco, CA. Kicking off her career doing product design and development with Fair Trade artisans around the world, she then moved on to the editorial side, writing for eBay’s Green Team blog and working as a marketing consultant for social and environmentally minded companies